Special Ops Command Aims to Convert M4A1 Carbine (UPDATED)

By Connie Lee

Photo: Defense Dept.

This is part 10 of a 10-part series covering U.S. Special Operations Command’s Top 10 technology needs leading up to the Special Operations Forces Industry Conference in Tampa, Florida, May 21-25, 2018. Today: Small Arms. 

Special Operations Command is examining ways to convert its current M4A1 carbine into a personal defense weapon.

It will give “the operator the ability to have a personal defense weapon that can be used in environments that require a close-quarters battle or variant assault rifle with the additional capability of minimizing weapon signature,” Army Lt. Col. Mark Owens, ammunition and weapons program manager in the program executive office for special operations forces warrior, said in an emailed statement.

Special operators typically work in small units, heightening the need to equip the commandos with technologies for small unit dominance — Green Berets usually form groups of 12, while SEALs usually form groups of 16.

SOCOM this year awarded a contract worth about $77,000 to Sig Sauer for 10 personal defense weapons kits, Owens noted. The firm-fixed-price contract requires the company to provide limited test articles for combat evaluation, he said. The award encompasses both the weapon and the optic.

“This will enable [the] government to assess the weapon system’s potential to meet the size, weight, overall length and reliability articulated by the user,” he noted. The 10 systems will help inform future acquisition decisions and plans, he said.

The complete kit includes the upper receiver and folding skeleton stock kits; tools required for the conversion; and an attachable light and sound reducing suppressor, according to the request for information released on FedBizOpps.

The system, including the M4A1 itself but not the magazine, must not weigh more than 5.5 pounds, according to the RFI. With the stock extended, the weapon must not be longer than 26 inches. With the stock collapsed, the weapon must be no longer than 17 inches; however, the desired length is 15 inches.

Additionally, the kit must have a 5.56 mm barrel that can be switched in less than three minutes to fire the .300 Blackout cartridge, the RFI stated. SOCOM hopes to have a weapon that is the same length and size for both calibers.

An announcement of the intent to award the contract, also released on FedBizOpps, states SOCOM chose Sig Sauer because the company was the only one that could meet the requirements for the commercial off-the-shelf kit. Acquiring products from other companies would not have met the schedule requirements, the announcement stated. Owens said SOCOM expects the upper receiver group and scope to be available in August for combat evaluations.

The command did not pursue an entirely new weapon system because there was no codified requirement that demanded one, he noted.

“We are assessing various technologies to increase warfighter lethality while reducing SOF signature,” he said.

Although not specifically stated in the contract announcement, some observers expect that the kit will convert the weapon into the MCX Rattler, a personal defense weapon by Sig Sauer that contains a 5.5 inch barrel and a foldable stock.

“This gun was designed from the ground up to be as [discreet] as possible while retaining all the capabilities of the MCX,” the company’s website states. The weapon features free-floating handguards and a folding aluminum stock.

Mark Mitchell, principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, earlier this year stated the importance of having special operators adopt new capabilities to adjust for the changing warfare environment.

“Russia today is not the Soviet Union and China today is not the China of the ‘70s or ‘80s,” he noted at the National Defense Industrial Association’s annual Special Operations/Low-Intensity Conflict Symposium and Exhibition. “There are many ways in which [these nations] are much more integrated into the international security architecture and the economic systems while also trying to manipulate and undermine it.”

Correction: a previous version of the story misidentified the type of stock for the M4A1.

SOCOM's Top 10 Technology Needs

Part 1: SOCOM Iron Man Suit Prototype Delayed a Year

Part 2: Special Operations Command Beefing Up Communications

Part 3: SOCOM Investing in New Tech to Counter Drones

Part 4: SOCOM Tapping into Biotechnology

Part 5: SOCOM Replenishing Precision-Guided Weapon Stockpiles

Part 6: SOCOM Setting Records for Unmanned Systems Procurement

Part 7: New Tools Wanted to Fill Signature Management Gaps

Part 8: Commandos Need Lightweight, Energy Efficient Equipment

Part 9: Special Operators Pursuing New Position, Navigation and Timing Capabilities


Topics: Special Operations-Low Intensity Conflict, Special Operations